Thursday, 4 June 2015

Does the Psychoactive Substances Bill give drug makers the wrong incentive?


Today's news included a report on how much cocaine was identified in London's sewers:

Experts said the UK capital was slightly ahead of Amsterdam, with the EU’s drug agency putting the average daily concentration of cocaine in London’s waste water at 737mg per 1,000 people in 2014.

This was the highest level found in an analysis of more than 50 cities. However, the capital fell behind Amsterdam when taking into account weekend samples only.

I'm guessing that this is an indication of just how much cocaine - a Class A illegal drug - is consumed in the capital. Fuelling a huge and powerful criminal enterprise that sees corruption, torture and murder as legitimate tools of business.

This revelation that, despite over 100 years of illegality, cocaine use remains pretty common in our capital city should worry us. Not because the war on drugs is being lost but because the government proposes to ramp up that war with its Psychoactive Substances Bill - a blanket ban on the sale of any substances with reason of giving psychoactive pleasure.

I'm not here making a judgement about the ethics of drug use or drug control but rather a practical observation that the winners in this new clampdown won't be the kids who use drugs (they'll be using less safe and more expensive drugs now) but the criminals who supply those drugs. Nor am I suggesting that further liberalisation of existing drug restrictions is a good idea.

However, if people are going to take psychoactive substances (and they are) then surely we want a policy that keeps the harm those substances do to a minimum? So, given that the 'legal highs' everyone is so agitated about are the products of chemistry rather than horticulture, wouldn't a better bill be one that allows the production and sale of psychoactive substances so long as the risk of use in minimised - perhaps subject to approval similar to regular pharmaceuticals? Such a strategy would mean people partying would face fewer risks and suppliers - those chemists - would have an incentive to produce safer products than the market supplies right now.

The puritans out there might not approve - but then their objection is moral not medical, an objection to chemically-induced pleasure rather than a concern for the health of users - but a policy that encouraged safer supply would probably save more lives that all the bans and restrictions currently advocated by public agencies and politicians who read the Daily Mail and Guardian too much.


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